AmphibiaWeb - Dendrobates tinctorius


(Translations may not be accurate.)

Dendrobates tinctorius (Cuvier, 1797)
Dyeing Poison Frog
family: Dendrobatidae
subfamily: Dendrobatinae
genus: Dendrobates
Dendrobates tinctorius
© 2020 Dr. Peter Janzen (1 of 108)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN Red List Status Account Least Concern (LC)
CITES Appendix II
National Status None
Regional Status None


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A large poison dart frog of the family Dendrobatidae. [There are two morphs, one that was formerly known as Dendrobates azureus, and the previously recognized Dendrobates tinctorius. DNA analysis has shown that these forms are conspecific. Following is a description for the morph that was formerly known as Dendrobates azureus (Wollenberg et al 2006)] This morph has bright blue-black arms and legs, paler, almost sky-blue and nearly unmarked sides, and a head and back covered with both large and small round spots. The underside is pale blue with round black spots, especially on the breast, and sometimes with a darker midbelly stripe. The oval tympanum is about a third of the eye diameter. Males have noticeably larger finger discs than females.

The other morph has strong yellow and black patterning on its dorsum and ventrum with blue-black arms and legs. Legs and arms may or may not have spotting. There are variations of this morph with varying amounts of yellow and strength of the yellow coloration (some are pale to almost white).

See News of the Week below for more research on the color pattern variation in this species.

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname

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amphibiandisease logo View Bd and Bsal data (19 records).
The Dyeing Frog inhabits eastern Guiana Shield, including portions of Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, and much of French Guiana.

It is found in humid, wet forests, requires rocky streams of running water, which are relatively cool, with temperatures dropping up to 22-27 degrees C at night. Dendrobates tinctorius is found under cover, such as rocks and moss, near streams. It usually stays on the ground, but is also found at heights up to 5 m in trees.

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
This species is diurnal.

Mating behavior starts with the male calling from his position in tree leaves or on the ground. The female is attracted by his calls and strokes the male's snout and back in a typical poison frog courtship sequence. The male then leads the female to his chosen spot, where a clutch of 2-6 eggs are laid, and attended to, in most cases, by the male, but also sometimes by the female. The eggs hatch within 14 to 18 days, and the tadpoles are carried to water pools within bromeliad or other plant leaf axils or crevices by both the female and the male.

Tadpoles of Dendrobates tinctorius are phytotelmic and often cannibalistic.

Relation to Humans
The brightly colored Dendrobates tinctorius is popular in the pet trade, many of which are captive bred.

This account was adapted from an account originally for the species previously known as Dendrobates azureus, which is now considered a subspecies of D. tinctorius (Wollenberg et al 2006).

This species was featured as News of the Week on 16 July 2018:

The startlingly bright colors and intricate patterns of Neotropical poison frogs are icons of warning coloration. Barnet et al. (2018) show in a recent paper that at least in Dendrobates tinctorius, the bright color patterns may simultaneously scream "Here I am!" to nearby would-be predators, yet be relatively undetectable to predators farther away. They measured the frog’s complex patterns of yellow and blue on a black background as perceived by different types of potential predators (reptiles, birds, mammals). Using a machine learning algorithm, they assessed the ability of different visual systems to discriminate D. tinctorius from a leaf litter background at different distances. Close up, discrimination by each visual system was highly accurate, but far away, discrimination declined dramatically. In the field, they used model frogs with different color patterns to show that cryptic (brown and black) models had fewer predation attempts against a natural leaf-litter background, whereas background did not affect the attack rates on purely aposematic (bright yellow) models. The tinctorius color pattern also had lower attack rates against the natural background, indicating an element of protective camouflage. Experiments with human "predators" trying to find frogs on a computer screen showed the tinctorius color pattern was just as aposematic as the bright yellow morph close-up, but from a distance was just as hard to see as cryptic coloration. They conclude a kind of perceptual averaging occurs, in which the different colors of the intricate pattern blend together at a distance, making the frogs virtually invisible in their natural background (Written by Kyle Summers).

This species was featured as News of the Week on 15 July 2019:

The larvae-toting parental care of many species of the Family Dendrobatidae is known to be an effective way to ensure tadpoles have food and protection while they develop. A study by Pašukonis, Loretto and Rojas (2019) asked further about the role of this parental shuttling in dispersal. With tiny radio transmitters, they tracked two poison frog species (Ameerega trivittata and Dendrobates tinctorius) and found that they moved their offsprings farther and to many more water sources than expected, with little regard to suitable, nearby pools. Examining the spatial patterns of the far-ranging fathers, the authors speculate on the adaptive benefits of ensuring the dispersal of their offspring to reduce competition and possible inbreeding against the increased costs and risks associated with long-distance travel. Their study highlights the parental role in offspring dispersal and the spatial acuity of these poison frogs (Written by Michelle Koo.)

This species was featured as News of the Week on 28 October 2019:

The evolution of warning signals, such as bright coloration, by chemically defended organisms is of key interest in evolutionary biology. We expect warning signals to be stable and conservative, so would-be predators can rely on these signals to avoid ingesting harmful toxins. Yet in many cases warning coloration is highly variable across species and populations, even within populations. Lawrence et al. (2019) use a variety of tests to investigate color variation between two populations (one with white, and one with yellow stripes) of the dyeing poison frog, Dendrobates tinctorius, known for its extraordinary color pattern variation. Using Plasticene frog models in the field, they show white striped frogs were protected in the range of the yellow frogs, but suffered higher attack rates in their own range, compared to the yellow frogs. The yellow frogs had lower overall levels of toxins, yet were more aversive to bird predators. Hence, white colored individuals would be protected in the range of the (highly aversive) yellow frogs, potentially leading to polymorphism. If individuals with the white stripes colonized a new habitat and became isolated (founder effect), this could lead to the formation of an all-white population. This may be what produced the between-population variation currently observed between the two D. tinctorius populations in this study. Genetic analyses revealed a complete lack of gene flow between the populations, which would shield the white population from invasion by the yellow phenotype (Written by Kyle Summers).

This species was featured as News of the Week on 17 October 2022:

Early studies to identify chemicals in poisonous frogs from South America were hampered by the limited resolution of mass spectrometry tools in the 1970s. Skin extracts from several hundred frogs were needed for scientists to obtain enough of a single compound to reveal its chemical structure. Over the following 20 years, advances in the sensitivity of these tools revolutionized the ability to describe the chemical structure of compounds new to Western science using only tiny quantities. A new tool allows even more innovative research into the chemical biology of amphibians. Krieger et al (2022) report an adaptation of the MasSpec Pen that allows real-time quantification of alkaloids and metabolites on frog skin that does not require biopsies or euthanasia. The MasSpec Pen is a hand-held device that, when pressed onto amphibian skin for 10-15 seconds, dissolves skin secretions into a droplet of solution containing water and a small amount of ethanol. The pen then ports the sample through a tube into a mass spectrometry machine where compounds are ionized and researchers can determine their identities. Such a tool can be valuable in repeated sampling of the same individuals, and future adaptations of the tool could even allow real-time sampling in the field. (Written by Rebecca Tarvin)

This species was featured as News of the Week on 17 June 2024:

Cannibalism is a common phenomenon among tadpoles of various frog species. Poison frog tadpoles from several genera (e.g. Dendrobates, Ranitomeya) are known to be especially enthusiastic when it comes to consuming conspecifics, possibly because they are typically deposited in small pools with limited space and nutrients. A number of studies have focused on the effects of various factors on the likelihood and extent of cannibalism (e.g. nutrient availability, pool size, and type). In a recent study, Surber-Cunningham et al. (2024) carried out lab-based experiments on Dendrobates tinctorius tadpoles (well-known for their cannibalistic tendencies), to investigate the effects of various waterborne cues (in the absence of visual cues) on tadpole movement and exploratory behavior. They specifically focused on the effects of ambiguous cues (e.g., those providing information about population density and about the presence of injured conspecifics), to see whether the tadpoles displayed unique, context specific reactions to such cues. They used less ambiguous, direct waterborne cues of predator (dragonfly larvae) presence, and of food (shrimp), as controls, in addition to a standard baseline control. Using specialized software to quantify movement and exploratory behavior, the authors were able to investigate heretofore unappreciated aspects of tadpole behavior in response to such cues. Of particular interest, they found that when given an injured conspecific cue tadpoles moved less (compared to the food cue), yet explored more (compared to the baseline and predator cues). The authors interpreted this as a strategy to maximize the probability of finding food (i.e., an injured conspecific), while at the same time minimizing the probability of being detected by a (potentially larger) conspecific that may have attacked the injured conspecific (and might present a risk of predation to the focal tadpole). They also explored four possible relationships between the plasticity (variation in response to cues) and repeatability across individuals, for the different behaviors investigated. Interestingly, they found all possible combinations of high/low (plasticity) and high/low (repeatability). This has implications for the validity of assumptions made about specific behaviors, and hence provides valuable guidance for future studies of tadpole behavior. (Written by Kyle Summers)


Walls, J. G. (1994). Jewels of the Rainforest: Poison Frogs of the Family Dendrobatidae. J.F.H. Publications, Neptune City, New Jersey.

Wollenberg, K. C., Veith, M., Noonan, B. P., and Lotters, S. (2006). ''Polymorphism versus species richness—systematics of large Dendrobates from the Eastern Guiana Shield (Amphibia: Dendrobatidae).'' Copeia, 2006(4), 623-629.

Originally submitted by: Franziska Sandmeier (first posted 2006-12-29)
Edited by: Kellie Whittaker, Ann T. Chang, Michelle S. Koo (2024-06-16)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2024 Dendrobates tinctorius: Dyeing Poison Frog <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Jun 18, 2024.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2024. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 18 Jun 2024.

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